Sunday, October 1, 2023

around the world: Walt Disney World opens new attractions across its Orlando property

by Martin Palicki. Photography by Paul Williams.

For a while, it seemed like this day would never arrive. At times, it felt like everyone was waiting for the Fantasyland expansion to be completed for longer than the original 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction was operational! But, it’s here! New Fantasyland is open. Well, most of it is, anyway. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster still has over a year’s worth of work ahead of it, as it was a somewhat late addition to the area’s lineup, replacing Pixie Hollow and a variety of Princess dwellings that were moved to “old” Fantasyland in the space formerly occupied by Snow White’s Scary Adventures (opening 2013).

But despite the roller coaster crane sitting in the middle of New Fantasyland, the new area is breathtaking in theming and immersive details. Although officially there are only two areas to the expansion (Enchanted Forest and Storybrook Circus), it feels like three right now, possibly due to the Mine Train construction walls dividing things up.

A natural fit for the Enchanted Forest, the elements from Beauty and the Beast are represented through Enchanted Tales with Belle, Be Our Guest Restaurant and Gaston’s Tavern.

Enchanted Tales with Belle – Perhaps the most original element of the entire expansion, the adventure starts in Maurice’s workshop, where an enchanted mirror magically transforms into a doorway into the Beast’s library where guests meet Belle and Lumiere and participate in an interactive re-telling of the “tale as old as time.” Expect long lines here for quite some time.

Be Our Guest – Designed as a quick service restaurant during the day and a full service table dining restaurant in the evening, the restaurant is heavy in detailing. Walking into the ballroom doesn’t quite elicit the same awe as the one in the movie, but the snow falling outside the windows looks real, and the mysterious West Wing with the magical rose is dark and intimate. With the restaurant already booked far in advance, Be Our Guest looks to be the most profitable addition to Fantasyland. Oh, and incidentally, the Grey Stuff mentioned in the restaurant’s namesake song is a sweet mousse dessert worth a sampling.

Gaston’s Tavern – A small French lodge designed to appeal to traditional masculine sensibilities, Gaston’s Tavern is a part of Belle’s Village, which includes a gift shop and popcorn stand. Gaston’s trademark is LeFou’s Brew, a non-alcoholic frozen apple juice drink with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with a passion fruit-mango foam. It doesn’t have the cache of a certain branded beverage being sold down the road at a major competitor, but it’s tasty and likely to be a hit, even if it would be better with a shot of dark rum.

Also a part of the Enchanted Forest, although somewhat confusingly, Ariel makes her home in Ariel’s Grotto and in the attraction Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. The dark ride mirrors the one opened at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim last year, although with a significantly more elaborate queue that includes a hidden Nautilus fossil in a nod to the original attraction that called this part of the park home: 20,000 LeaguesUnder the Sea.

Ariel’s Grotto is home to a meet and greet with Ariel, and also houses the most elusive hidden Mickey ever created. Shafts in the rockwork at Ariel’s Grotto allow sunlight to filter down and create a perfect hidden Mickey shape…but only on Mickey’s birthday (November 18th) at high noon. Imagine what crowds will be like on November 18th!!

Storybrook Circus provides a completely different atmosphere from Enchanted Forest, and is packed with attractions for the little ones.

Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, a Fantasyland original, makes its new home here. The attraction has been doubled (literally) with two different rides (one turning clockwise, the other counterclockwise). The biggest change however, is in the queue, which has perpetually been plagued by long lines. A new air-conditioned big top tent serves as an indoor playground waiting area. Guests are given pagers and called to the ride when it is their turn to hop on Dumbo.

The Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini is a renaming of an existing coaster. The family-style coaster follows a twisting, turning course.

Pete’s Silly Sideshow invites guests to meet and greet Disney characters: Minnie Magnifique (Minnie Mouse as a circus star), Madame Daisy Fortuna (Daisy Duck as a fortune teller), The Great Goofini (Goofy as a stunt pilot) and The Astounding Donaldo (Donald Duck as a snake charmer).

The Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station water play area brings a much needed splash zone to the Magic Kingdom. With temps in the 50’s and 60’s during our visit, for a detailed review, you’ll have to try it on your own!

The new Fantasyland offerings certainly live up to the Disney promise of quality and detail with careful attention to the timeless Disney narratives that millions flock to central Florida to experience. The addition of Princess Fairytale Hall (2013) and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster (2014) will round out Fantasyland and easily make that section of the park the most popular land in the Kingdom.

Test Track

Over at EPCOT, The bones of Test Track haven’t changed. The vehicles and ride layout are almost identical. But the experience couldn’t be any more different.

Charming in its own right, the original Test Track was starting to show its age. It was becoming a microcosm of the American auto industry it represented: suffering from a lack of new ideas and needing an influx of capital – fast!

InPark Editor Martin Palicki takes a shot at designing a Sim Car before taking it out for a spin on Test Track.

The new Test Track erases all that, and moves the auto-design process into the future with a glamorized version of the not-so-sexy automotive design process.

From an attraction standpoint, the retrofit works in how it brings together three pillars of ride design that are shaping the future of attraction development. For starters, the ride experience is thrilling and fun. Luckily, the original Test Track Imagineers created an interesting ride experience that has stood the test of time.

Secondly, the ride now enjoys some customizability, which makes it a more repeatable experience. Arguably, the customization element of the attraction is really more in one’s perception rather than in the experience. Upon entering the “Chevrolet Design Center” guests shape their own virtual car on a giant touch screen. Here, they can stretch and shape their vehicle design by length, width, height and engine size – and decide which performance attribute is most important to them. Once they create the design of their dreams, guests complete their creation with even more choices. They can choose an expressive front grill, tailored wheels of various sizes and styles, and custom paint with graphics and other vehicle accessories. The process takes 5-10 minutes to complete.

The guest’s virtual car is tied to a RFID card, which the guest scans prior to boarding the actual ride vehicle. While the ride doesn’t change based on their vehicle design, there is still an incentive to try the design process multiple times, as during the ride feedback is displayed on monitors as to how well each rider’s design is performing.

That leads to the final pillar: the element of competition. Throughout the ride, the vehicle is ranked against four important performance attributes that guide Chevrolet designers: capability, efficiency, responsiveness and power. During the ride, after each “test” a monitor shows models of each rider’s car ranked against one another. While there isn’t an explicitly competitive theme to the ride (like Toy Story Midway Mania, for example) it is a component that drives repeatability for the attraction.

The actual ride is a neon-lovers paradise. Everything is either pitch black, or pulsating and glowing. It certainly offers a distinctive style – a form of blacklight minimalism that seems void of depth but at the same time is futuristic.

The post-show area of the ride has also been redone, and while the feeling of the area is generally less showroom-like, the vibe is still sales-y, and more in place with the obvious corporate-sponsored brand-building expected in Innovations. But, really that is what Test Track, and the World of Motion before it, has always been about. Only now it’s more fun, and in an odd sort of way, kind of sexy.

Test Track is now open to the public at Epcot.


Recently opened, the new Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Downtown Disney features boutique bowling in a retro environment. A total of 30 lanes are split between two levels, grouped together in small clusters throughout the building to create a more intimate experience.

This is not your father’s bowling alley. Inside, upscale bars complement stylized bowling lanes.

A dining area, billiards tables, full service bars, a balcony overlooking Downtown Disney, live entertainment and a unique sushi bar round out the facility’s offerings.

The Splitsville menu is distinctly different than your typical bowling alley fare. Guided by award-winning chef Tim Cushman, the menu features a variety of higher-end offerings such as grilled Mahi Mahi with “Voodoo” shrimp, filet sliders and grilled chicken parmesan, plus a kids menu, in addition to traditional bowling alley food items.

The bowling facility takes the place of the former Virgin Megastore and thankfully brings more recreation options to the Downtown Disney area, which offers more in the way of shopping, and less in the way of family experiences.

Splittsville at Downtown Disney is the Orlando-based chain’s fifth location joining venues in Tampa, FL, Miami, FL, Fairview, TX and Fredericksburg, VA. According to the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, almost 70 million Americans bowl every year, making it the most popular participation sport in America.

While Splitsville is a welcome addition to Downtown Disney, This InPark editor still anxiously awaits the return of The Adventurers Club and Mannequins to the Downtown Disney / Pleasure Island lineup…although there is probably a better chance of any InPark staffer bowling a 300 game at this point.

Splitsville opens in mid-December. For more information on the Splitsville brand, visit

Art of Animation

Now fully opened, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is a new concept in Disney’s resort offerings. Comprised largely of family suites, the resort is finally catering to the trend of larger intergenerational families traveling together.

The theming and layout of the resort is similar to the Pop Century Resort, located across the lagoon from Art of Animation, which was originally intended to be an expansion of Pop Century, but was abandoned mid-construction after the tourism drop post-9/11.

Sketches in the Art of Animation’s lobby are repeated throughout the resort.

Art of Animation features four distinctly designed wings celebrating the rich storytelling, spirited characters, original sketches and playfulness inspired by the classic Disney and Disney*Pixar films: Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid.

Giant sketchbooks filled with favorite characters seem to come to life as they pave the way to each storyline revealed throughout the lobby. Scenic settings and icons – including a brightly colored coral landscape, a 35-foor-tall model of King Triton, a towering Mufasa and more – immerse guests into the playful world of animation in each respective courtyard. At the Cars wing (arguably the best themed of the four), a freshly paved road leads to the Cozy Cone Motel complete with a Cozy Cone pool and cone-shaped cabanas.

The family suites are comfortable. A master suite includes a queen-size bed and private bath with spacious shower. The main area includes a Murphy bed and a convertible sofa. A small kitchenette includes a sink, mini-fridge and microwave. A second bathroom offers a small tub. The theming in the rooms is thorough and playful – designed to appeal to a child’s aesthetic.

The central feature of the resort is the “Big Blue” pool in the Finding Nemo area. Billed as the largest pool on Disney property at 11,859 square feet, underwater speakers play music and allow characters from Nemo to make audio appearances. The concept is simple and effective; it feels like the music is coming from inside your head.

Rates for Art of Animation start at $94 for standard rooms and $248 for family suites – pricey given the resort’s “Value” designation. For more information, visit • • •


Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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